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EvalSDGs Week: Evaluation and the Transformational Imperative by Joyce Mukoma and Scott Chaplowe

Authors Joyce Mukoma and Scott Chaplowe

Greetings! We are Joyce Mukoma, a Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant with the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR), and Scott Chaplowe, an evaluation and strategy specialist, AEA International Working Group member, Board member of the International Evaluation Academy, and longtime member of EvalSDGs.

In this post, we draw upon our EvalSDGs Insights publication, “Evaluation and the Transformational Imperative,” for a brief look at the buzzing phenomenon that is evaluation for transformational change

So, what exactly is transformational change? It is change that ‘shifts the paradigm’ by radically changing a system’s form, function or process. Such shifts are essential to bring deep, fundamental, and positive transformations in our political, economic, social, and ecological systems amid the myriad global challenges we are facing. 

You might now ask how evaluation fits into this context? Evaluation needs to transform itself from within to better contribute to transformational learning and change. This entails overcoming some bad habits that limit evaluation’s transformational potential, which is the subject of another AEA365 blog post on Evaluating Outside the Box.  

How then can evaluation transform to better support the transformational imperative? This pathway is not confined to one approach or method, but rather to different perspectives and approaches which respond to the complexity and systems thinking inherent to transformational change. Notable pathways include:

  1. Complexity-responsive methods – Evaluation should embrace a holistic analysis of complex systems, understanding how various elements interact and how changes in one area affect the whole system. This approach helps us better navigate dynamic and complex changes, providing insights for continuous improvement and adaptation — especially important in addressing global challenges, where flexibility and responsiveness are key. Example methods include Developmental Evaluation, Realist Evaluation, Outcome Harvesting and Process Tracing, and Michael Bamberger’s  post, Building Complexity into Development Evaluation.
  2. Principle-focused Evaluation – This approach, exemplified by Blue Marble Evaluation, can use “whole Earth” principles that go beyond traditional boundaries, fostering a holistic understanding of complex systems to encourage a transformative mindset for positive societal and environmental impact. Drop into one of BME’s webinars to learn more. 
  3. Transformational evaluation criteria – The most widely used evaluation criteria – the OECD DAC Development Evaluation – are inadequate for addressing transformational change. New criteria to evaluate transformational change are being identified to move away from the “business-as-usual” approach of evaluation and expand its scope to support systems-wide assessment  – i.e., see the five dimensions identified by the Climate Investment Fund’s Transformational Change Learning Partnership.
  4. Data science technologies – Advancement in this area have has expanded avenues for data generation and use, allowing evaluation to investigate complex scenarios to better understand and leverage transformational change. Learn more from this post on Addressing the Nexus of Data Science and Evaluation.
  5. Alternative perspectives and paradigms in evaluation – Diverse perspectives and paradigms in evaluation, such as those from indigenous communities, traditionally marginalized populations, and Young and Emerging Evaluators (YEE), offer unique lenses to approach transformational evaluation. For example, take a look at the recent special issue of the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation on Decolonizing Evaluation

Rad Resources

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